Wednesday - Mar 20, 2019

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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOILS: Forecasting Le’Veon Bell’s Fantasy Value in 2019

Back in 2017, Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell were two of the most productive running backs in fantasy football. Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards and finished the season third in points per reception (PPR) league fantasy points at the position. Bell rushed for 1.291 yards, caught 85 passes and finished the year one slot higher.

The 2018 campaign was a much different story. Hunt was rolling right along until he was stunningly released in November after a video surfaced that showed him assaulting a woman. Bell never got out of the gate. His contract impasse with Pittsburgh reached critical mass and then some — rather than play under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, Bell sat out the entire season.

For fantasy owners counting on another huge year from Bell, it was a nightmare. And while Hunt’s dynasty owners may not know how long his impending suspension will be, they at least know where he’ll play in 2019 (Cleveland).

The Bell situation is reversed. The 26-year-old will play this year (we think), but no one knows where. All we know is that the odds of Bell playing another down for the Pittsburgh Steelers are approximately negative 192 million percent.

Give-or-take.

That uncertainty is maddening for Bell’s dynasty owners, but it’s fair to ask if there’s a silver lining. Are all the questions surrounding Bell an opportunity for value — to either buy Bell at a discount or sell before a bad situation gets even worse?

I already took a look at Hunt’s situation recently here at Fantasy Sharks. Since I already have the Magic 8-Ball out and my lead underwear on (it’s a surplus Soviet one that might be just a tad radioactive. In related news, all my fish are dead.) I figured I might as well keep the fun rolling by trying to answer this question …

For whom will Bell toil in 2019, and what does it mean for his fantasy value?

There’s one thing we do know about Bell — Pittsburgh apparently isn’t quite ready to watch him walk out the door. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the team is considering applying the transition tag to Ball in 2019 and then trying to engineer a trade.

Remember when Pittsburgh was a model, well-run franchise? Me neither — because this is so stupid it makes my head hurt.

For starters, in order for Pittsburgh to trade Bell, he would have to sign the transition tag. Given all that’s happened between player and team over the past couple of seasons, Bell giving Pittsburgh all the power in determining where he plays while simultaneously netting the team a high draft pick are, um, unlikely.

Also, if Pittsburgh uses the transition tag and Bell signs an offer sheet that the team chooses not to match (which the team won’t, because it can’t — especially with a massive cap hit looming if Pittsburgh also trades Antonio Brown), the team gets no compensation at all. A fat bag of nothing.

However, if Pittsburgh does nothing and Bell leaves in free agency, Pittsburgh gets a compensatory pick. Given Bell’s stature, likely a third-rounder. That’s as good as it’s going to get for the team. If Kevin Colbert can’t see that and screws this up (again), then Pittsburgh deserves every bit of what it’s going to get.

That fat bag of nothing.

There’s no question that Bell’s leaving. The only question is where. And that’s a loaded question. Any team looking to acquire the five-year veteran is going to have to shell out a lot of money. There aren’t that many teams with both cap space to do that and a need in the backfield so glaring that it makes sense.

And potentially even fewer who may be willing to do so after Bell sat out an entire season.

Here are the teams (in alphabetical order) who are most often mentioned as possible suitors for Bell.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

This one (obviously) would only happen if Bell hits the open market — there is zero chance in hell that Pittsburgh would trade Bell to its most hated rivals. With that said, the prospect of Bell toting the rock for a team that finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2018 with a much less talented running back corps is very interesting from a fantasy perspective.

Given the money that Baltimore just cleared with the Joe Flacco trade, the team (in theory) has the cabbage to pull this off. And the NFL Network’s Mike Garafalo recently called Baltimore Bell’s most likely landing spot. But new Ravens general manager Erik DeCosta called free agency a “dicey proposition” in January, and the Ravens have long been a team that avoided splash signings.

Still, it’s gotta be tempting to put the screws to your archrival.

HOUSTON TEXANS

All the way back in November, ESPN’s Dan Graziano predicted that Bell would be a Texan in 2019.

“Houston is a team with a boatload of projected 2019 cap space and a quarterback on his inexpensive rookie deal,” he said. “The Texans will be next season’s (Los Angeles) Rams — the “all-in” offseason team trying to maximize Deshaun Watson’s window. Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Bell? Look out.”

There’s more than a little logic behind the notion, in that the Texans have more than $70 million in cap space and are in “win now” mode. But on the way to an AFC South title in 2018 the Texans were eighth in the NFL in rushing, so the need at tailback isn’t a glaring one.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

There’s one prevailing reason why the Colts have been mentioned as a potential suitor for Bell. Per Over the Cap, there isn’t a team in the NFL with more wiggle room. The Colts would probably still have the most cap space in the NFL after signing Bell.

Also, a source told SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano last December that the Colts are at or near the top of Bell’s wish list of new homes.

“He has his eyes on the Colts, no doubt about that,” the source told Vacchiano. “He sees [Andrew] Luck and that offense and all that cap room and they’re much closer than the (New York) Jets. He wants to go someplace he can win right away.”

The Colts have a solid quarterback in Andrew Luck and the fourth-best run-blocking league in the NFL per Football Outsiders. What the team doesn’t have, according to Gregg Doyel of the Indy Star, is any inclination to sign the mercurial tailback.

“Imagine Le’Veon Bell,” Doyel said, “who made the business decision to sit out this past season because he didn’t like the eight-figure contract the Steelers were offering – that’s $70 million – sacrificing for someone other than himself. Bell had the right to make that choice, of course. And the Colts have the right to make theirs.”

About Gary Davenport

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications. These publications include the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is a both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. Gary was one of the co-founders of, and Head Writer at, Fantasy Football Oasis before joining Fantasy Sharks as an IDP Senior Staff Writer in 2011. He knows football. Or so he's heard.